Page:Darwin Journal of Researches.djvu/71

This page has been validated.
1832-3.]
49
THE CAPYBARA OR WATER-HOG.

the rifle. My powder being exhausted, I was obliged to get up (to my shame as a sportsman be it spoken, though well able to kill birds on the wing) and halloo till the deer ran away.

The most curious fact with respect to this animal, is the overpoweringly strong and offensive odour which proceeds from the buck. It is quite indescribable: several times whilst skinning the specimen which is now mounted at the Zoological Museum, I was almost overcome by nausea. I tied up the skin in a silk pocket-handkerchief, and so carried it home: this handkerchief, after being well washed, I continually used, and it was of course as repeatedly washed; yet every time, for a space of one year and seven months, when first unfolded, I distinctly perceived the odour. This appears an astonishing instance of the permanence of some matter, which nevertheless in its nature must be most subtile and volatile. Frequently, when passing at the distance of half a mile to leeward of a herd, I have perceived the whole air tainted with the effluvium. I believe the smell from the buck is most powerful at the period when its horns are perfect, or free from the hairy skin. When in this state the meat is, of course, quite uneatable; but the Gauchos assert, that if buried for some time in fresh earth, the taint is removed. I have somewhere read that the islanders in the north of Scotland treat the rank carcasses of the fish-eating birds in the same manner.

The order Rodentia is here very numerous in species: of mice alone I obtained no less than eight kinds.[1] The largest gnawing animal in the world, the Hydrochærus capybara (the water-hog), is here also common. One which I shot at Monte Video weighed ninety-eight pounds: its length, from the end of the snout to the stump-like tail, was three feet two inches; and its girth three feet eight. These great Rodents occasionally frequent the islands in the mouth of the Plata, where the water is quite salt, but are far more abundant on the borders

  1. In South America I collected altogether twenty-seven species of mice, and thirteen more are known from the works of Azara and other authors. Those collected by myself have been named and described by Mr. Waterhouse at the meetings of the Zoological Society. I must be allowed to take this opportunity of returning my cordial thanks to Mr. Waterhouse, and to the other gentlemen attached to that Society, for their kind and most liberal assistance on all occasions.

e